Nov. 30, 1998: Williams breaks record in fantastic fashion against Aggies

Mike Finger

They all knew it was coming, from the legion of orange-clad fanatics to the stoic Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, from the “Tyler Rose” to the “Rocket,” from a former Newton Boy to a real-life Cowboy hero.

Over the past four years, Longhorn fans everywhere had already seen their dreadlocked savior achieve almost every spectacular feat that a college player could, and there was seemingly no broken tackle, no burst of speed, no historic run that could make the legend of Ricky Williams grow any larger.

But as he raced into immortality on Friday at 10:47 a.m. CST, Williams managed to outdo himself once again.

With Williams only 11 yards short of Tony Dorsett’s all-time NCAA rushing record late in the first quarter of Texas’ 26-24 win over the Aggies, the Horns had the ball at their own 40.

On an isolation play known as “L King Zin 53,” quarterback Major Applewhite handed the ball off to the star halfback, who exploded through the line of scrimmage, shed a potential Sedrick Curry tackle at midfield, burst down the left sideline, slowed down inside the A&M 10 to follow a Wayne McGarity block and carried Aggie safety Jason Webster into the endzone for a historic 60-yard touchdown that sent a Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial crowd of 83,687 into utter pandemonium.

“What a great way to break the record,” said center Russell Gaskamp, who along with guard Roger Roesler and fullback Ricky Brown had a key block on the play. “It was just vintage Ricky — breaking tackles, being able to outrun everybody — it was the whole package.”

By the end of the day, Williams had amassed 259 yards on the ground, 196 more than he had needed to break Dorsett’s mark and 15 more than the Aggies had ever given up to a single back in the history of A&M football.

But after Kris Stockton’s kick secured the Texas victory, it was the 60-yard rumble that everyone was talking about.

“He’s always been a little bit of a showboat,” head coach Mack Brown said. “He wanted to get that special 60-yard run to break a national record, just to make it stand out.”

After Williams reached the endzone, he embraced McGarity and tackled Jay Humphrey before being greeted by hordes of Texas players and coaches on the sideline. The officiating crew then set aside the football, which will be sent to the Football Foundation Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

“I was exhausted,” Williams said. “I came back to the sidelines and got mobbed by the whole team. I couldn’t breathe. I was trying to say ‘help,’ but I couldn’t get anything out.”

Among those observing from the sideline was Dorsett, who excitedly jumped and pointed as Williams was streaking down the field. Dorsett, whose Dallas Cowboys rushing mark was broken earlier this month by Emmitt Smith, said he was pleased to see that his NCAA record of 6,082 yards was broken by a player like Williams.

“I feel almost like this is my child, watching something like this,” Dorsett said. “This is history.”

And clearly, it wasn’t just Dorsett who sensed the magnitude of Williams’ feat.

“Every time I gave him the ball, I looked at him because I thought it could be the memorable play,” Applewhite said. “After I handed to him that time, I didn’t even carry out my fake. I said, ‘I’ve got to see this.’”

Two hours after Williams broke the record, when the final seconds had ticket off the clock, the probable Heisman winner was engulfed by a sea of cameras, reporters and celebrities, including actor Matthew McConaughey and American League Cy Young Award-winner Roger Clemens.

A video tribute was played on the JumboTron scoreboard, and the surreal ceremony was concluded with a presentation involving former Heisman winners Earl Campbell of Texas and John David Crow of Texas A&M.

Afterward, the author of 15 NCAA records tried to put perspective on the momentous occasion.

“It’s special for everyone involved with this program,” said Williams, who finished his senior season with 2,124 yards. “I’m just happy that I could make everyone proud.”

Printed on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 as: Williams breaks rushing record, clinches Heisman Trophy